Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Market For Non-English Language Films On DVD In The United States

All language is foreign to those who do not speak or understand the words being spoken.   

DVD & Blu-ray Release Report, Ralph Tribbey

There are over 14,500 films available on DVD in the domestic market place where the language spoken is not English.   Overall the category of “Foreign Language” films accounts for 9.3 percent of all releases.   

Those are healthy numbers by any standard — roughly one in every eleven SKUs is released to DVD as a feature film in a language other than English.  Think about that … one out of every eleven DVD releases since the inception of the format.

We thought that it might be interesting to take a snapshot of where — throughout the world — these films are coming from.   The results, when broken down into major language groupings, are very intriguing.   

A few caveats and observations before delving into these release numbers.   

First, not all foreign language films released on DVD are represented here.   Nothing goes into the various tracking databases without dates (sometimes titles just magically appear), SRPs and a domestic source of distribution — a DVD release (NTSC standard) set to Region Zero can be distributed anywhere in the world, especially through internet sales.   Without a source, a release date and a price, it doesn’t exist.

To cut down on this chaos certain basics have to be met for a DVD release to be counted … it is not rocket science, but some entities — especially those operating in the categories of Religion, Special Interest and Foreign Language — seem to go out of their way to be obtuse.  It makes you wonder, is it a hobby or a business for them?

And if you think that just capturing new title data from Amazon.com gets you the majority of new arrivals on DVD you’d be mistaken.   That key source, while helpful, only represents half of the SKU count — across the board — each week.   

You should also consider this: Up until about 2005 most of the current recognized distributors of films released on DVD from the Indian subcontinent played whack-a-mole with pirates operating in the United States.   You would literally see more information about piracy complaints and legal battles than you would actually see as “legitimate” new DVD release information.    

Once they, collectively speaking, got organized and began to compete in the domestic market for sales of their films (which are often turned in 30 to 60 days after a theatrical break) the mix of product being offered in this category changed dramatically.

And don’t make assumptions that Spanish is the obvious language choice being so close to Mexico … after a flood of titles that began in 2003 — and peaked just two years later — the SKU counts have steadily dropped.   In 2005, for example, there were over 800 Spanish-language films released on DVD in the domestic market.  Last year, just 70!

We suspect that most Spanish-language speakers are availing themselves of the various DVD and Blu-ray language options for current “Hollywood” theatrical releases and are less concerned about so-called “homeland” productions.  The tracking numbers each week seem to point this … otherwise we would see a more robust Spanish-language release schedule to meet the demand.

Various sources list the number of foreign languages spoken on this planet at somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 (makes you wonder if anyone really knows).   However, for the world of home entertainment the top 20 languages account for 98.6 percent of all DVD releases.   It is a universe of haves and have-nots … those that express themselves in film and those that cannot … or in some cases, will not.

DVD & Blu-ray Release Report, Ralph TribbeyAs you might suspect, European “Romance” languages (based on Latin) is the number one grouping with a 38.7 percent share.   The obvious players here are Spanish (Mexico, Spain and South America), French, Italian and Portuguese (chiefly from Brazil).

The Dravidian languages of Southern India (Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu) are next with 19.9 percent.   India, or “Bollywood” is nothing like the domestic market … there are five major languages competing for audiences.   

Of note, Hindi, which most American audiences would associate with films from India is not a Dravidian-based language — the country is divided north and south when it comes to languages spoken (interesting).

In third and fourth place with 10.2 and 9.9 percent respectively are Sino-Tibetan (mainly Cantonese and Mandarin) and Macro-Altaic (chiefly Japanese and Korean) languages.  

We then drop down to fifth and sixth place with 6.1 and 5.0 market shares — Madhya (Hindi) and Germanic (German, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Flemish
and even a couple of Afrikaans releases).

Slavic rounds out the top seven language groupings with a 3.3 percent release share — these include Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bulgarian, etc.

These seven main groupings account for 93.1 percent of all Foreign Language category releases.   Again, there are the haves and have-nots when it comes to the production and commerce of feature films released where the language spoken is something other than English.

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